States struggle with key NCLB mandate

As states and school systems struggle to meet the “highly qualified teacher” (HQT) mandate of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), technology is playing a key role in their efforts to track and manage compliance. But technology alone can’t solve the issue, as evidenced by the extremely low success rate of states: As of early July, not a single state had complied with the critical goal of having 100 percent of their core academic courses taught by HQTs.

At press time, states were continuing to submit revised plans to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) by the July 7 deadline for achieving that elusive objective. Most states have submitted their compliance plans, ED officials say, but the 100 percent HQT goal definitely will not be realized.

In May, Assistant Secretary of Education Henry Johnson, in a letter to state education officials, admitted that while states have made progress over the past three years, none was likely to meet the goal of 100 percent HQT compliance by the end of the 2005-2006 school year. As a result, Johnson reported, the department asked states to submit revised plans detailing specific new actions to reach the HQT goal in the upcoming school year to facilitate all students performing on grade level in reading and math by 2014.

Rene Islas, chief of staff in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, says that states have made considerable progress in the last few months, and the department now is trying to determine how close states are to complying with the requirements.

Indeed, two states singled out for criticism by the department appear to be taking HQT seriously.

Joe Lamson, a spokesman for the Montana Office of Public Instruction, reports that his state received a letter from Johnson in June expressing concerns about compliance and now is in negotiations on a revised plan. “The main issue was how we handled newly entering teachers,” Lamson explains. ED appeared more concerned with test results, he noted, while “our position in Montana is that we have always maintained that if our teachers are licensed and teaching in the subject areas they’re licensed in, they are highly qualified.”

Kathi Slaughter, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Education, reports that, in her view, the state now is in compliance, having resolved the key issue in dispute: whether the state would require new elementary school teachers to take a “pencil and paper test” to determine competency. “We have agreed to that as an interim step” while trying to get the state’s own assessment procedure approved, she reports.

Islas remains hopeful on compliance. The HQT requirementsteachers must have a bachelor’s degree and full state certification, in addition to demonstrated competency in their subject matter areaare just commonsense measures, he argues. “It’s a change in how the states have done business. They have focused in the past on pedagogical measures,” Islas comments. “Now, the emphasis is on demonstrating that teachers have, and can demonstrate, competency in the subjects they are teaching.”

That’s vitally important, Bush administration officials argue, in light of a recent study by the Education Trust, which found large discrepancies in teacher qualifications in Illinois, Ohio, and Wisconsin between poor and wealthy schools, and between mostly white and mostly minority schools.

So, what’s the role of technology in the HQT mandate? First, states must come up with a systematic way to keep track of their staff members’ professional development credits and certification levels and to monitor their compliance toward the HQT mandate under NCLB. Second, states and districts must provide parents and the public with complete reports on the number and percentage of classes in core academic subjects taught by HQTs. Finally, states must provide the Department of Education with complete and accurate reporting of HQT data.

That would seem to cry out for state-of-the-art information technology, experts say. But it hasn’t always worked out that way in practice. For example, one Mississippi school official says that while his school district is using computer software to help keep tabs on how students are performing, it hasn’t yet adopted a similar approach for managing information on district teachers. “Right now,” he reports, “we’re using short, stubby pencils.”

Most states and school districts, however, are turning to education vendors to help them deal with the HQT requirements. Nick Sanders, president of Combined Computer Resources Inc. (CCR) in Dallas, says his firm has been providing computer software for school human-resources operations for 15 years and that the latest NCLB mandates fit in well with his operations. CCR currently is supplying school districts in Texas and California with software that allows administrators to track teacher qualifications and determine if they meet current requirements to be considered highly qualified, Sanders reports.

CCR developed its “e-Portfolio” product to help with professional development tracking and records maintenance for veteran teachers, he explains. The e-Portfolio software allows for collection of information about a teacher, including licensure, certifications, tests taken and passed, college course work, years of experience, professional development courses completed, “and any other type of information that’s needed to meet the state rubric,” Sanders reports.

In Texas, information can be imported from the state licensing agency, and teachers and administrators can enter any information that can’t be uploaded automatically. Officials then are able to determine if a teacher is highly qualified based on the information available, he explains.

The Northeast Independent School District in San Antonio also uses the system to allow teachers who want to exchange a day spent in a professional development course on a weekend or holiday for a day off during the week, Sanders says. In addition, the program provides a way to keep records together. “The law says you need to maintain the records. This does that,” he says.

Keeping the information updated allows administrators to determine which teachers have certificates that are expiring, and what needs to be done to get them toor keep them athighly qualified status, according to Sanders. The system also is responsive to changes in what constitutes a highly qualified teacher, he notes. For example, Sanders says, when the Texas Education Agency decided to amend its requirements for highly qualified special-education teachers, the software was able to help teachers and administrators determine who met the revised criteria. “As the rules of the game change, you can recalculate and correct problems,” he comments.

CCR is working on bringing in test results from teachers’ classes, where such information might be relevant, to help determine what factors might be contributing to better (or poorer) performance. “If you have an eighth grade math teacher, what were the reports for that teacher’s students? What can you see that is giving a better result?” Sanders says. That feature, he says, might come into use more often as demands for accountability, and for rewarding teachers who demonstrate superior results, continue. “That’s not going to go away,” he comments.

Meanwhile, another firm, TrueNorthLogic, is working with the Hawaii Department of Education to develop a HQT framework to enable the state to track teachers’ status. The program, which should be rolled out at the end of the year, also will allow the state to determine how highly qualified teachers are distributed between high-income and low-income schools, help school leaders ascertain what teachers need to do to become highly qualified, and give feedback on what professional development courses appear to be providing the most benefit to teachers. In addition, teachers will be able to look at their status and decide what steps they need to take to become highly qualified, says Jeannette Hammock, TrueNorthLogic’s president and CTO.

The firm has provided software to the Montgomery County, Md., Public Schools, which allows the district to track changes in teacher status, determine what professional development courses teachers are taking, and ensure that teachers are paid stipends or are reimbursed for their training, Hammock adds. “Now that we have all the metrics in place, the next step is to do assessments on how teachers are using that professional development training. We want to see what courses are actually helping teachers become more highly qualified,” she explains.

Some school districts have developed their own “home-grown” systems for tracking information on teachers to determine whether they are highly qualified. A spokeswoman for the Houston Independent School District reports that HISD’s “e-Train” system provides updates on what professional development courses teachers are taking.

Teachers can log into the system to register for the courses, explains Adriana Villarreal, and the district’s professional development department verifies their attendance and updates their records.

And the Austin Independent School District (AISD) also developed its own method for tracking teacher qualifications, according to spokeswoman Pam Hall. AISD uses its payroll system software (IFAS from BiTech) but created another field to cover the information needed for HQT compliance, Hall explains: “We didn’t have to go out and buy any new software.”

Even with technological help, several key stakeholders have concerns about the latest NCLB mandate.

Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association (NEA), doesn’t dispute the need to have highly qualified teachers, but he believes the requirements need to be rethought. His current concern: ED’s consideration of phasing out the High Objective Uniform State Standard of Evaluation (HOUSSE), which allows teachers who are not new to the profession to meet the HQT requirements by demonstrating subject matter mastery, training, and experience. “The secretary is talking about doing away with the HOUSSE provisions, and that would put thousands of teachers in jeopardy,” he says.

NEA also remains concerned with the approach of “punishing schools that don’t necessarily live up to the requirements of the law,” Weaver reports. “That’s not the thing to do. It’s really not.” That approach seems particularly questionable at a time when Congress is cutting back on funding for education, Weaver comments.

Marc Egan, with the National School Boards Association, says there’s no question that school districts and states are working as hard as possible to meet the HQT requirements. “Everyone agrees they want the most highly qualified teacher in every classroom,” Egan notes. “The question is how to measure that. There is a feeling that focusing on teacher credentials should not be the only way, but that you look at whether the teacher is having a positive impact on student achievement.”

Egan expects these issues will be raised further “when No Child Left Behind goes uphopefullyfor reauthorization next year.” He believes there is a growing recognition that meeting HQT requirements is tougher for some school districts than others, especially rural districts where teachers might be teaching multiple subjects and attracting teachers is difficult.

In the meantime, state officials and local school administrators are awaiting the next announcement from ED that should indicate what they must do next to meet the HQT requirementsand to find out if the department believes they’re moving quickly enough toward that goal.


ED’s Highly Qualified Teacher site

Combined Computer Resources Inc.


National Education Association

National School Boards Association

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